image Photo: Flash90

Israel, PIJ reach ceasefire

The truce was declared late last night following three days of violence between the sides in the most serious flare-up on the Gaza frontier in more than a year.

By Erin Viner

Israel launched pre-emptive strikes on Friday in what was codenamed “Operation Breaking Dawn” against imminent attacks by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) intended to avenge arrest of the terror group’s leader Bassam al-Sa’adi in the West Bank on 1 August.

“Israel carried out a precise counter-terror operation against an immediate threat. Our fight is not with the people of Gaza. Islamic Jihad is an Iranian proxy that wants to destroy the State of Israel and kill innocent Israelis. The head of Islamic Jihad is in Tehran as we speak. We will do whatever it takes to defend our people,” Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a message specifically aimed at international media.

Voicing “faith in the Israeli public” who he was certain would “give full backing to our security establishment” for “however long it may take” to “eliminate the threat to our citizens,” Lapid said, “The people of Israel are strong, they understand the importance of deterrence, they stand with the residents of the south. Our security forces are prepared with a set of powerful responses to any attack. We will face the enemy with strength, together.”

Saying that a joint operational effort by the IDF, intelligence elements and the Israel Security Agency (ISA, Shin Bet), with the approval of the political echelon, struck PIJ targets in Gaza in “an extraordinary achievement,” the Israeli Premier expressed appreciation to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, ISA Director Ronen Bar and the thousands under their command.

Senior PIJ commanders, Taysir al-Jabari and Khaled Mansour were killed in the Israeli strikes, as well as a cell preparing to launch an anti-tank missile attack against Israel.

“This government has a zero-tolerance policy for any attempted attacks – of any kind – from Gaza towards Israeli territory,” the Israeli leader added. Underscoring that “terrorist organizations will not set the agenda in the area adjacent to Gaza,” he insisted that, “At the same time, we won’t accept any ultimatums regarding the operations of the IDF and the security forces – including on other fronts. Everyone who needs to be arrested – will be arrested. Any attempt to harm civilians or soldiers will be met with a harsh response.”

Defense Minister Gantz emphasized that, “Whoever seeks to hurt Israeli citizens – will be hurt. The IDF, ISA and the security forces will continue to operate against Islamic Jihad until we restore quiet and remove the threats to the children living in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip. I would like to commend the IDF under the leadership of the Chief-of-Staff, and the ISA under the leadership of Ronen Bar, for their major efforts in safeguarding the security of Israel.”

Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Gantz later said “Islamic Jihad leaders lounge abroad in restaurants and hotels in Tehran, Syria and Lebanon. They are disconnected from the Palestinian people and they seriously harm the lives of the Gazan people. They too will have to pay the price. The IRGC [which supports Islamic Jihad], will not pay the salaries of Gaza residents.”

The IDF stated that Israel’s Iron Dome defense system is estimated to have intercepted 97% of the 11,000 rockets the PIJ fired at Israeli communities over the past 3 days that threatened much of southern Israel and sent residents in cities including Tel Aviv and Ashkelon into bomb shelters.

The terror group extended its range to fire toward Jerusalem yesterday in what it described as retaliation for the overnight killing of its southern Gaza commander Mansour. The Iron Dome successfully shot down the rockets just west of the city. The military said others had fallen short, causing several Gaza fatalities, while Hamas said all the Palestinian deaths were caused by the Israeli strikes.

Thoughout the conflict, Prime Minister Yair Lapid held ongoing security assessments with top defense officials. He also met with opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday to keep him updated him on security matters.

Israel strongly disputed reports in the Arab and international media – including Al Jazeera and the BBC – that 4 children were killed in strikes on the Palestinian city of Jabaliya four kilometers north of Gaza City. The Head of Israel’s Public Diplomacy Directorate Minister Tammy Ben Haim said that investigation “unequivocally showed” that a failed rocket attack by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad was responsible for the killing of children.

“We have in our possession videos that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that this incident was not the result of an Israel Defense Forces’ strike. Israeli security forces did not strike in Jabaliya in the past few hours,” she said, charging that “All fire by the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization is a double war crime: it is shooting at civilians, and using Gazan civilians as human shields.”

The video of the PIJ misfire on Jabaliya can be viewed here:

Echoing those statements, the Prime Minister’s International Spokeswoman Keren Hajioff said that “Iran’s proxies – including Islamic Jihad – have a long history of hiding behind civilians to target Israeli civilians. The world should be outraged at this terrorist group targeting innocent Israelis and killing innocent Gazans,” adding that, “Israel will continue to stand up to this vicious terrorist organization – which threatens Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

3 mortar bombs fired from the Gaza Strip hit the Erez Crossing, managed by the Israel Ministry of Defense (IMoD). The terminal roof was damaged as a result of the fire, and shrapnel fell into the entrance hall, an area that is used to facilitate the daily passage of thousands of Gazans that work in Israel. The Erez Crossing was closed at the time to preventing further damage but re-opened again at 10:30 AM local following the truce.

PIJ rocket attacks on Israel largely tapered off by the time the ceasefire came into effect last night at 23:30 (20:30 GMT).

Both Israel and the PIJ Islamic Jihad confirmed thanked Egypt for mediating the the truce. At a news conference in Tehran, the group’s leader Ziyad al-Nakhala, said Cairo would “work to secure the release” of al-Saadi. Israeli and Egyptian officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

It is interesting to note that the Islamist Hamas rulers of Gaza remained out of the conflict between its terrorist rival PIJ and Israel. The conflict is believed to have remained relatively contained to three days due to Hamas’ abstention from getting involved.

Gaza officials said 44 Palestinians were killed during Operation Breaking Dawn.

“If the ceasefire is violated, the State of Israel maintains the right to respond strongly. We will not allow any disruption to the lives of the citizens of the State of Israel,” warned a statement issued by the National Public Diplomacy Directorate.

United States President Joe Biden also welcomed the truce in a statement.

“The United States is deeply grateful for the unstinting efforts by Egypt in helping to mediate this agreement. We also commend the important roles played by Qatar, UN Special Envoy Wennesland, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority over recent days. Our team worked around the clock with the parties to support this outcome,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken, while reiterating that the US “remains dedicated to our ironclad commitment to Israel’s security and will remain fully engaged in the days ahead to promote calm. We will continue in the months ahead to work with partners to improve the quality of life for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Palestinians and Israelis deserve to live safely and securely and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy.”

Israel and Gaza have now waged five conflicts, which include the 2021 Operation Guardian of the Walls, 2014 Operation Protective Edge, 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense and 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead.